A key congressional leader on cannabis issues is pushing the Biden administration to take action on federal marijuana scheduling “now,” before the upcoming election. And in the meantime, she said she’s “cautiously optimistic” that Congress can pass a more limited banking reform—but the prospects are complicated by Republican control of the House.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, shared her perspective on a number of marijuana developments during a fireside chat hosted by the International Cannabis Bar Association (INCBA) on Thursday.
Early in the conversation, she seemed to temper expectations about the prospects of enacting reform in the short term, saying “we’ve got to figure out a permanent path, and right now, we’re not sure.”
“I’m not sure if we could, given the composition of this Congress, that we can get anything passed that would make sense,” she said. “We probably should have done it last year when [Democrats] were in control, but we didn’t.”
Nonetheless, she said at the event that legislators must “find a pathway” for reform, and Lee suggested that could come in the form of an executive order from President Joe Biden, who directed an administrative review into marijuana scheduling late last year that agencies are actively working to complete.
On that matter, Lee said Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris deserve “kudos for doing this—but it’s got to move faster.”
“I don’t want this lingering, because next year is an election year. And you know what’s going to happen then. Folks will be all over the place,” she said. “So we have to urge them to get this done now.”
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The congresswoman also stressed the importance of passing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act through the Senate with equity provisions attached, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has pledged to do on the floor after it moves through committee. The Senate Banking Committee will hold a markup of the legislation “soon,” the chairman’s office told Marijuana Moment on Thursday.
She reflected on her experience negotiating the legislation on the House side last session, noting that “there were many, rightfully so, who wanted to hold it up” because of its lack of specific criminal justice reform elements as a standalone bill.
“They better do what we negotiated, all in good faith,” she said, referring to Senate leaders. “It’ll still have to come back to the House, so I’m cautiously optimistic that they’re going to do this in the Senate. But I’m thinking ahead again, and how do we manage this when it comes back to our side?”
She said it was a “tough negotiation” last Congress. “I have to get in there in the middle of the night to negotiate passage of the SAFE Banking Act with the commitments that these [equity] provisions would be included. So they better not mess with us now.”
“The big obstacle is the filibuster rule in the Senate. So we’ve got to get the votes to get past 60,” Lee added. “And that’s the biggest problem. But I think if we get the votes and keep it bipartisan, it will get done.”
The congresswoman also echoed points previously made by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), saying that the marijuana industry as it exists today is “not doing well at all in terms of equity” and pointing out that “it’s a hard industry to penetrate.”
Lee is also running for the Senate, and she said that she intends to leverage her power in the chamber if elected, using it as a “platform” to “help organize the public in ways that we can educate the public everywhere in the country about the need for descheduling and reform.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.